If you come from another part of Australia or from overseas and you get the chance to walk on the beach at sunrise in Coogee, or cycle around Bibra Lake or watch the sunset from Cantonment Hill, you will remember it a long time. You will come back, and you might even stay.
Like Australia as a whole, Fremantle in the last quarter of a century has made tourism a much bigger part of our social and economic life. It sustains jobs and businesses. It contributes to cultural and community life. As a place to visit and stay for a while, Freo is very hard to beat. The landscape is extraordinary. If you love the water, whether it's scuba diving, sailing or just floating on your back in the shallows, you are well and truly sorted. If you love good food and drink, if you love history, if you want to see the next big thing in Australian music, if you want to experience fantastic Indigenous arts and culture—if you're into any and all of those things, in Freo you are well and truly sorted. It's a diverse and multicultural community that is blessed to live on the land of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation. We have for a long time been the cradle of great art and great artists, from Bon Scott of AC/DC fame to Tame Impala; from Xavier Herbert to Joan London; and from Kim Scott to Tim Winton. We are the home of craft brewing in Australia.
As with Australia as a whole, there remains a lot of potential for tourism in Fremantle and in Western Australia to get bigger and better still. The growing significance and value of tourism have together been a feature of Australia's economic and cultural development over the last 30 years. It's amazing to think that in 1950 short-term overseas visitors to our country totalled only 40,000 people. By 1984 it was a million, and by 1990 it was 2.4 million. In 2015, we had 7½ million overseas visitors to Australia. In the 2016-17 year, tourism generated $37.2 billion in export earnings, which is 10 per cent by value of all Australian exports, making it our fifth largest export earner. Tourism employs five per cent of all workers in Australia and makes a vital contribution to rural and regional economies.
It's particularly notable and welcome that international visitor participation in Indigenous cultural activities actually increased 18.6 per cent in 2016-17. I've got no doubt there is much more that could be done to grow this further in the future. I know the cities of Cockburn and Fremantle are separately working towards projects and facilities in that area. I know that both the Beeliar Wetlands and Rottnest Island, or Wadjemup, offer great opportunities to deepen our engagement with Noongar culture.
We should remember that tourism and higher education together represent the two largest service exports, and they are not unrelated. We know that people who visit Australia are more likely to then consider this country as a place to pursue their education. We know that international students bring with them the additional value of the visits that are generally made by family and friends. In WA that inter-relationship has special relevance, because we certainly can do more when it comes to attracting both tourists and international students.
I'm very glad the McGowan Labor government has made growing WA's tourism sector one of its priorities within its broad focus on economic revitalisation and job creation. I congratulate the Minister for Tourism, my friend and south metro colleague, the Hon. Paul Papalia for his achievements to date. They are reward for effort. His work has included securing new direct flights—most notably, the first direct flight from Australia to the UK, to London—and progress towards securing direct flights from countries in our region, like India. It has also included a commitment to improve critical infrastructure like the Fremantle Passenger Terminal, though the WA government's capacity to do that is compromised by the debt left to them by the Barnett government. I'll also say that the current government has cut two of Labor's successful and supportive tourism initiatives: the T-QUAL Grants program and the Tourism Industry Regional Development Fund. As the representative of one of Australia's great destination cities, I'm very glad to have recently become the co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Tourism. I look forward to working with business and the broader community in Western Australia to make tourism a brighter and stronger part of our social, cultural and economic life in the future.